I'm not much of a true gourmand, as they say. But in recent years, especially as I've lived in Washington with an infusion of diverse cultures at every turn, I have come to appreciate good food more than your average joe. Washington, D.C. has no end of awesome restaurants serving traditional food from every corner of the world and it is my goal to eat in all of them. With The Shiftless Badger's help, I'm even learning to cook it occasionally. My theory on home made meals with fresh ingredients goes something like this: I know it tastes better. I know it's better for you. But I think you underestimate how much lazier than your average person I am and how I can't shake the idea that if it takes longer to cook than it does to eat, it's just not worth it.

Since The Badger is an honest to goodness, real live chef, I've been trying to use my affiliation with him to steal some of his knowledge. (Since he teaches cooking classes, he's made this quite easy.) So a couple of weeks ago I took a trip to suburban housewife-ville to attend a Thai cooking class he was teaching. We were schooled on how to make three really awesome dishes: Tom Yam soup, Pad Thai, and Green Curry Something or Other (I may or may not have stopped paying close attention by this time so you probably shouldn't quote me official name of the dish).

"That seems really easy," I said naively and immediately went home making plans to recreate these dishes myself.

Here are some of the things I learned in the process:
  • My kitchen, while largely unused, looks more used than most people's used kitchens.
  • Being required to explain your "Thai cooking credentials" to tipsy American mostly-stay-at-home moms has got to be irritating.
  • The Badger is quite possibly the most patient man on Earth.
  • The quality of food in Asian supermarkets varies widely from store to store.
  • Stock boys in Asian food supermarkets wait until the busiest time of the day with the most customers possible in the stores and THEN begin stocking their shelves; they also glare at you when you step over their boxes that are strewn from here 'till Sunday.
  • Fish sauce might be "Thailand's ketchup" but Thai markets in my area only have two bottles of it and they hide those bottles on the bottom shelf in the back of the store.
  • Those stores do not carry Thai chili pastes, curry pastes, or really pastes of any kind.
  • Those stores do, however, have an entire aisle filled with fifty-seven varieties of soy sauce... for your every soy sauce need.
  • You can't appropriately substitute three-year old curry powder left over in your kitchen for curry paste.
  • Cactus sugar makes a reasonable substitution for palm sugar (let's hear it for the desert dweller's ingenuity), but you will still be annoyed that you can't find palm sugar in any Asian market because palm sugar is awesome.
  • You can order Thai ingredients from Amazon.com and would probably spend less time waiting for the delivery than you would going from store to store looking for galangal.
  • Yes, I realize I could just use regular ginger, but that's not the point.
  • Fresh lemongrass is a gift from God.
  • Enoki mushrooms are only slightly less heaven-like.
  • Your children, who eat Thai food at any restaurant, will turn their noses up when you cook it for them.
  • Cut your tofu in really small pieces because those same children will try and swallow it whole, and that becomes messy later.
  • Your husband will patronizingly take a bite, claim to intend to take the rest for lunch tomorrow and then leave it in the fridge until you have to throw it out so don't make extra.
  • You will make an entire bowl of Tom Yam soup for yourself and that's fine because it is so awesome, it shouldn't be shared - plus you can put extra chilies in and no one with wussy taste buds complains.
  • Eating Tom Yam soup for three days straight does odd things to your digestive system.
  • I enjoy cooking but I enjoy much more having the Badger show up at my house with pre-purchased ingredients and having him cook them in front of me while entertaining me with stories.
I can't say I'm not better for the attempt at Thai cooking, but from now on, I think it'll just be for me. It's wasted on The Others. Obviously, they have a way to go before becoming true gourmands.

Which reminds me of a story.

The KoH and I were driving through North Carolina a few years ago and happened to drive past a restaurant called the Grits Grill. Across the outside of the building was a giant banner that said, "Try our Gourmet Grits! Cheddar, Bacon and Shrimp."

We were only mildly hungry at the time but I had to know what these people did: how to dress up a bowl of grits so much that it was no longer just a run-o-the-mill bowl of grits and could now be called, gourmet grits. So we went in to get something to eat and sat down at the bar (the fact that there was a bar, should have clued me in right off, don't you think?).

"I think I'd like to try your 'Gourmet Cheddar Grits'," I told the waitress after glancing at the menu.

"And I'll have the 'Gourmet Bacon Grits'," said The KoH.

She turned around, grabbed a bowl and slopped a ladleful of grits into it, sloshing some onto the floor. Then right in front of me, she reached into a canister with her bare hand and brought out a handful of grated cheese, which she unceremoniously plopped on top of the grits. Then she dropped the bowl down in front of me, slopping cheese and grits onto the counter. For The KoH's order, she repeated the same process, but instead of bare-handing a glop of cheese, she grabbed, with the same hand, a handful of Bacon Bits from a different canister and served his bowl up to him.

"Mmmm, gourmet." I said taking a bite.

I guess gourmet is subjective.